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Fugitive charge tossed against father of dead boy found at Taos County compound

August 26, 2018

TAOS — The 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office on Thursday dismissed a charge of fugitive from justice against a man accused of kidnapping his son from Georgia and abusing 11 other children at a compound in Northern New Mexico.

The action, which clears the way for Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s release from jail on certain conditions, came just over a week after state District Judge Sarah Backus ruled he and his four co-defendants could be released on bail.

The five defendants are accused of keeping the children, ages 1 to 15, in squalid conditions at the makeshift dwelling in Amalia, a tiny Taos County community near the Colorado border. They have been ordered to wear GPS ankle monitors upon release and be placed on house arrest. They cannot return to the compound, however, because authorities demolished it last week. Instead, they must find suitable housing elsewhere.

Meeting those conditions has been a challenge for three of the defendants who were still held with Wahhaj at the Taos County jail Thursday afternoon. A fourth defendant, a Haitian immigrant identified as Wahhaj’s wife, was detained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last week after Backus’ ruling.

Wahhaj’s fugitive from justice charge stemmed from an arrest warrant issued in Georgia accusing him of kidnapping his son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, whose remains were found buried at the compound Aug. 6, what would have been the boy’s fourth birthday.

Deputy District Attorney Ron Olsen said earlier this month that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj would have to first address the New Mexico abuse case before facing charges in Georgia.

Wahhaj and his co-defendants — his wife, Jany Leveille, 35; brother-in-law Lucas Morton, 40; and sisters Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, and Hujrah Wahhaj, 37 — also were charged with criminal trespassing earlier this month for building their makeshift home on property they didn’t own.

On Thursday, a judge removed another barrier to their release, altering bonds set in their cases. The judge replaced cash bonds with $5,000 unsecured appearance bonds.

The defendants were arrested following a raid Aug. 3, when the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and another state agency raided the compound where they had lived with the 11 children.

Earlier Thursday, defense attorneys filed motions to dismiss the abuse cases filed against Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj, citing continued delays by state prosecutors and conditions of release that none of the four defendants had been able to fulfill.

Both motions cite a state requirement to hold a preliminary hearing for a defendant within 10 days of when he or she is placed in custody.

“If a preliminary examination is not held within the time limits in this rule, the court shall dismiss the case without prejudice and discharge the defendant,” Hujrah Wahhaj’s attorney, Marie Legrand Miller, wrote in her motion.

This story first appeared on the website of the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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